Last week more than 10,000 youth activists converged on Washington, D.C., to learn from one another, organize grassroots movements, and demand that the government show commitment to a sustainable future. They were attending the biannual Power Shift conference, and though the four-day event finished on Monday, this week offers yet another occasion to be mindful of the importance of environmentalism: Friday, April 22, marks the 41st anniversary of Earth Day.
Earth Day was founded at a time when laws protecting the environment were either weak or nonexistent, and manufacturers were more or less unrestricted in recklessly polluting the environment. Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded the holiday in 1970 as a way of forcing his fellow representatives in government to recognize the growing contingency of Americans who felt strongly the need to protect the environment for future generations. Nelson’s idea caught on quickly—more than 20 million people around the country took to the streets and demonstrated on the occasion of the inaugural Earth Day.
Earth Day proved to be very consequential; not coincidentally, President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order in December of that same year. The Clean Air Act, which had been originally passed in 1963, was also significantly amended in 1970 to bolster its effectiveness. Legislators passed a host of laws ensuring water quality, protecting endangered species, and limiting hazardous waste in the following years. Earth Day, by mobilizing and empowering citizens around the country who were concerned with the state of the environment, no doubt contributed heavily to that progress.
Observance of Earth Day has grown significantly in the four decades since the inaugural holiday. Earth Day is no longer exclusively celebrated in the United States; in fact, Earth Day Network, the organization responsible for promoting Earth Day, has worked to spread awareness of the event to 192 countries by working with more than 22,000 partner organizations. As a result of their efforts, an estimated 1 billion people celebrate Earth Day each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
Communities around the country have taken advantage of the premise of Earth Day to promote environmental awareness and environmentally friendly lifestyles. In fact, many have gone as far as to celebrate “Earth Week” instead of just Earth Day. If you’re looking to get involved in your community, the EPA hosts an interactive map that shows what Earth Day events are being put on in your area.
Of course, the true point of Earth Day isn’t just to limit environmental mindfulness to one day—or even one week—of the year. Rather, Earth Day is meant to remind people about the importance of protecting the environment and to inspire people to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyles. Truly impacting the global environment for the better will require a lasting, broad-based commitment to live harmoniously with the environment, and Earth Day Network is taking steps to achieve precisely that. They’ve launched “A Billion Acts of Green,” a counter where people can pledge to change something about the way they live to be more environmentally friendly. Already, nearly 100 million people and counting have made the pledge.
Making a positive impact on the environment may require large changes in the way we live but doing so need not be difficult. In fact, we here at the Center for American Progress have taken the position that it’s rather easy to be green. So if you’d like to make the pledge with Earth Day Network, check out the archives of the “It’s Easy Being Green” series for fun and effective ideas for pledges to make. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Vermicomposting: Composting at home is a great way to reduce household waste, and introducing worms into the compost can speed up the process significantly.
- Clean Green: This article offers ways to clean around your house without relying on common household cleaners, many of which contain harmful chemicals.
- The New Organic: Eating local and organic fruits, vegetables, and meat helps reduce the waste associated with the food you purchase.
- Collaborative Consumption: Sharing items instead of buying them is an easy way to reduce clutter, decrease your carbon footprint, and save money.
You can also help spread the word by sending your favorite links to friends and encouraging them to take the pledge as well. Earth Day is a fantastic opportunity to renew your commitment to a clean planet and we hope you take advantage of the many articles in our “It’s Easy Being Green” series to help you do so.